The Tory government announced a further delay on the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station last night (July 28) just hours after French company EDF gave the project the green light.
The announcement sent shockwaves among key stakeholders in the project. EDF had expected to sign contracts with the government today (July 29) after the board voted through a final investment decision. Construction was set to start in a matter of weeks.
But energy secretary Greg Clark said the government will now “make its decision in early autumn”, adding renewed uncertainty to what is set be the UK’s first nuclear power station in a generation.
Roughly 25,000 jobs are on the line, as is the UK’s ability to keep the lights on. Hinkley Point C will eventually generate 7 per cent of the UK’s electricity, enough to power 6m homes.
New nuclear build is urgently needed at a time when coal-fired power stations – which accounts for a third of the UK’s electricity supply — are slowly being phased out. The gap created by coal no longer being a viable source of energy by 2025 means any further delays to nuclear projects, which produce no carbon emissions, will threaten Britain’s energy security.
Unite regional officer Rob Miguel said that the thousands of jobs the project will generate are absolutely vital for the local Somerset economy.
“The mood locally and on site is quite sombre following the government’s announcement,” he said. “These jobs on hold are not only in construction – the project will also need, for example, hundreds of bus drivers as well as hundreds of catering and cleaning staff.
“Those who’ve applied for jobs are being put on standby yet again,” Miguel added. “We’re staring at a massive skills gap after the many thousands waiting for work will leave and take their skills with them.”
Miguel noted that the jobs created by the Hinkley Point project are especially needed in the local community now after various closures that have decimated jobs, such as the recent shuttering of a paper and cider mill.
“After those and other closures, many of the skills needed for Hinkley Point are now available and fit into that project ,” he noted.
Miguel hailed the “positive partnership” that exists between the client, contractors and the unions involved in the project, something that he said was a unique opportunity that should be embraced.
“The continued delays have a negative effect on confidence in the markets,” he argued. “Those who are saying the project is too risky or that the energy price rate is too high are being unhelpful.
“All the unions involved are extremely confident that the highly skilled British and French workers who will be involved in this project will deliver it through to completion safely, to a quality standard and on time. We cannot afford further delays. The government must act now.”
Unite national officer Kevin Coyne also urged the government to stop dithering.
“This long-awaited decision by EDF is historic and the British government must now as a matter of urgency sign the relevant contracts so work can get started as soon as possible,” he said.
“Any further delay or back sliding would hold back the economic boost and the accompanying creation of thousands of skilled jobs that this major infrastructure project will bring.
“Our members are shovel ready to start work on the country’s first nuclear power station for a generation and British companies are at the ready to build and supply this £18 billion project,” Coyne added.
He called the project the government’s “first big litmus test” following last month’s EU referendum.
“Theresa May’s new government must now give the final go-ahead and show that it has the appetite for the big infrastructure projects that the UK so desperately needs for its future economic prosperity,” he said.
Coyne called the latest government announcement “bewildering.”
“They’ve had four years to get this sorted and they’re delaying yet again,” he said. “This is a mess and the government needs to get its house in order now.”
Like Miguel, Coyne highlighted that delays will only further destabilise the workforce.
“There are 800 people already on site, and they’re going to spend their weekend unsure about their future,” he said. “There are an additional 6,000 people who will be on site once construction begins.
“With delay upon delay, contractors will become disillusioned and that will have an effect along the entire supply chain.Eventually the workforce could be demobilised if the government doesn’t act now.”
Coyne decried claims that the new government needs time to, as the energy secretary said, “carefully consider all the component parts” of the project.
“This government was elected on a manifesto of reindustrialising Britain,” he said. “And Theresa May has said repeatedly that she wants to support working people. Only days ago chancellor Phillip Hammond said the project must go ahead.
“After this latest delay, the government doesn’t have a leg to stand on,” he added. “The time for excuses is over.”
Coyne noted that Unite will continue pressing the UK government to give Hinkley Point C the “final green light” and ensure that the project “makes maximum use of British-made materials, such as steel, so that the benefits flow into the blood stream of the wider UK economy.”